Letters: Labour is continuing its tradition of hostility to excellence in education

Rachel Reeves, Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting in Purfleet
Rachel Reeves, Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting in Purfleet
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SIR – My son was almost the last of the 11-plus children in Coventry. He passed the exam, and for the next seven years received an outstanding education at one of the city’s two boys’ grammar schools. He went on to have a successful career in medicine.

As a boy from a working-class background, he might well not have achieved what he did if this route had not been available.

Sir Keir Starmer says he has changed Labour, but his proposal to add VAT to independent school fees (report, May 27) shows that his party still wants to eliminate ambition, aspiration and excellence – just as it did in the days of Anthony Crosland, with his determination to destroy grammar schools.

Margaret Chatham
Coventry, Warwickshire


SIR – If parents decide to go down the route of fee-paying education – which means they do not use state resources – surely that should be applauded. They should not be penalised with yet more taxation.

Labour’s plans will harm both the state and independent sectors. They will also harm the children who are suddenly taken out of private schools. Once again, this party is displaying its hatred of hard-working middle-class families who are prepared to pay in order to give their children a better chance in life.

Wendy May
Hereford


SIR – Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, suggests that independent schools faced with closure will simply have to “make efficiencies” (report, May 27). I find this incredible. If she were to refer to almost any independent school’s Charity Commission entry, she would find that the single largest cost is staff. I would be interested to sit with her and discuss how a school like mine could achieve cost savings without making members of staff unemployed or reducing the educational provision available.

My school educates more than 600 children and employs over 200 staff in a rural area where there are few other opportunities. I wonder whether Ms Reeves has considered the probable human cost of her party’s policy.

John Paget-Tomlinson
Headmaster, Leweston School
Sherborne, Dorset


SIR – Rather than espousing the politics of envy, why doesn’t Labour seek to copy in state schools what independent schools do so well?

More streaming would be a good start, as well as longer school days for teenagers. I see my town full of senior-school pupils going home at 3pm, as five-year-olds do. Orchestra, drama and sports could then take place. Our independent sector is highly regarded throughout the world. Don’t penalise it. Emulate it.

Susan Chambers
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire


Mind the cracks

SIR – It’s not just potholes (Letters, May 27) that are a problem.

Those who ride mobility scooters – many of which have no suspension – will attest to the shocking state of Britain’s pavements. The bumps and bangs caused by uneven surfaces are enough to knock one’s fillings out.

Richard Statham
Basingstoke, Hampshire


SIR – Being in my eighties, I rarely make long-distance car journeys from my home in North Wales.

However, last week I had to attend an inquest in Bolton and was shocked by the number of potholes in the major carriageways of the M53 and A55, which form the Chester Southerly bypass.

It’s bad enough when potholes become common on our “ordinary” A-roads, but they should never be allowed to persist on the country’s major arterial routes.

Dr Brian Wareing 
Penyffordd, Flintshire


Wasted inheritances

SIR – Dr A J Hesketh (Letters, May 27) believes that inheritance tax encourages younger generations to make their own way in life.

This may be so – but does he think that leaving money for the state to waste is a better idea?

William Rusbridge
Tregony, Cornwall


Fickle football fans

SIR – There seems to be a trend across the Premier League of dismissing managers when success is not immediately forthcoming.

It would also appear that Manchester United fans have selective memories when it comes to the hiring and firing of managers (“United step up manager hunt”, Sport, May 27). Their most revered and successful manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, took several seasons to build up a team and a structure, before dominating the Premier League for a significant period.

Although not a Man United supporter, I greatly admire Erik ten Hag for his skill and honesty. I believe him to be a good manager, who, given time and support, will be able to achieve success rivalling his team’s Manchester neighbours.

Fans should be careful what they wish for.

Paul Marsh
Glossop, Derbyshire


Accent evolution

SIR – After two years in Edinburgh, I was transported to London at the age of seven, then evacuated to Exeter.

The staff at my school asked why I still had a Scottish accent (Letters, May 27). I had only been in Devon for three months when my mother remarked that I was starting to sound south-western. By the age of 12 I was back in London, where my grammar school required me to have elocution lessons to rid me of this deplorable accent.

While in Austria I was asked if I was Dutch. In Spain it was thought I was Italian.

Barbara Chapman
Rotherfield, East Sussex


SIR – In 1994 I was queuing in a small shop in Los Angeles, and ordered at the counter. As I turned to leave an elderly gent said: “You’re from Cardiff.” It transpired that, in 1944, he had been stationed at Whitchurch Common in the run-up to D-Day.

I had never even considered myself to possess the brogue.

Al Thomas 
Cardiff


Action on hunger

SIR – This year marks 40 years since the Ethiopian famine, which caught the attention of the British media and inspired an overwhelming public response in the UK and around the world. After Ethiopia, the world vowed: “Never again.”

Indeed, during the following decades, Britain played a key role in efforts that saw the proportion of undernourished people in the world cut by almost half.

Tragically, conflict and climate change have caused that success to go into reverse, and today millions are facing famine. Malnutrition, although preventable, takes a child’s life every 11 seconds. Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gaza, Sudan, Yemen and many other places is feeding a cycle of hunger and hopelessness.

Food is foundational to development. Nutritious food fuels individuals, communities and economies. Deprived of it, generations struggle to grow, learn and fulfil their potential. As former defence and development ministers, we believe that tackling malnutrition and hunger is not only a moral imperative but also critical to our national security and foreign policy interests.

On World Hunger Day, we urge political leaders across parties to recognise the geopolitical significance of the global hunger crisis and build on existing efforts to ensure that Britain is once again at the heart of efforts to tackle it. That means mobilising the full scope of British know-how and resources, and galvanising international peacebuilding efforts.

Unless urgent action is taken to break it, the deadly cycle of hunger and conflict will continue, bringing further misery to millions. That should matter to all of us because a hungry world will never be a safe or stable one.

Rory Stewart
Secretary of state for international development (Con), 2019

Baroness Featherstone (Lib Dem) 
Parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development, 2012-14

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
Secretary of state for defence, 2006-08


Against bank holidays

SIR – What is the point of bank holidays in this country? The buses and trains run skeleton services and, if the weather’s good, the roads are crammed. Many bank branches are closed anyway, so why do they need holidays? Employers could offer more annual leave for their staff instead.

Ann Wright
Cambridge


Life lessons learnt during National Service

Norman Rossington and Kenneth Williams in the 1958 film Carry on Sergeant
Norman Rossington and Kenneth Williams in the 1958 film Carry on Sergeant - Alamy

SIR – Many people are pontificating about the Tories’ plans to reinstate National Service (Letters, May 27) but few have actually done it.

I did, and it was great. It set me up for life: to hell and back in the first three months, RAF West Kirby in the winter, three months in air radar school at RAF Yatesbury, then 18 months in the Ground Radio Servicing Flight at RAF North Front, Gibraltar. The experience proved good preparation for my career in the then infant computer industry. Many of my colleagues learnt basic electronics in either the Navy or the RAF. A mixed system of National Service and regulars worked then, and it will work again.

Mike Ostick
Upton upon Severn, Worcestershire


SIR – While a student in the 1960s, I spent one vacation as a plasterer’s mate on a building site in South Wales. When we workers gathered at break times, or in the van travelling to and from the site, conversation often turned to experiences of National Service. There weren’t many tales of action, but lots about postings to parts of Britain as well as Germany, Korea, Malaya (as it was then) and Singapore. I was enthralled by my fellow workers’ descriptions of the countryside, the cities, the jungle and the people they’d met.

The stories usually ended with: “I loved the life and would have signed on, but I met the missus and she wanted me out.”

Brian Farmer
Braintree, Essex


SIR – The proposed lifetime smoking ban was a very sensible proposition by Rishi Sunak. In typical Tory fashion, however, it has been dropped, only to be replaced by the frankly bizarre National Service plan.

Does Mr Sunak not realise that it is the Tories who have been cutting the number of soldiers in Britain for the past 14 years? The National Service plan will cost £2.5 billion, in addition to causing widespread bewilderment. Where is the money coming from? From my perspective, at least, this simply appears to be another unfunded, kneejerk policy aimed at attracting Reform UK voters.

Sebastian Monblat
London SE14


SIR – I thought the Conservatives had a large enough mountain to climb without promising to bring back National Service. This will only give younger generations further cause to think that we “boomers” had it easy and find someone else to vote for. Neither will it increase the chances of the Tories retaining my vote. I don’t want my grandchildren to be forced into National Service.

If people want to join the military for a short period, or give up their weekends, then set up such a scheme – but to make it compulsory would be wrong. My brother and I, and all of our children, grew up to become useful, hardworking members of society without National Service.

Amanda Dingle
Swindon, Wiltshire



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